Four-Season Travel Guide to Lake Tahoe’s South Shore

By: Suzanne Roberts

Photo: Rachid Dahnoun / Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority

Naturalist John Muir called Lake Tahoe “a kind of water heaven,” a place where the dazzling blues of the lake reflect the breathtakingly beautiful blue sky. Straddling California and Nevada with its 72 miles of shoreline, Lake Tahoe is North America’s largest alpine lake. Depths reach 1,645 feet, making it the second-deepest lake in the United States and one of the purest bodies of water in the world.

While the crystal-clear lake shimmers with unparalleled beauty and ample avenues for outdoor recreation, the surrounding mountains, rivers, and forests offer endless activities of their own, whether you’re seeking an adrenaline rush, family entertainment, a romantic getaway, or just some rest and relaxation. With an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, a friendly mountain-town feel, and accommodations ranging from upscale digs to camping among the conifers, the South Shore of Lake Tahoe is the perfect year-round destination. Here’s how to spend four seasons at Big Blue.

This post is proudly produced in partnership with the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

South Shore summers are perfect for leisurely beach days, exhilarating hiking and biking, al fresco dining, and outdoor concerts. Begin your day lounging at sunny Baldwin Beach with your favorite summer read, or hop on a kayak or SUP and paddle to Emerald Bay State Park. Look for nesting bald eagles and osprey diving for fish. Float around the rocky Fannette Island with its historic teahouse, then kick back on a sandy beach at the mouth of Emerald Bay or tour Vikingsholm, an early 20th-century Scandinavian-style castle.

Picnic under the pines at Pope Beach before strolling to The Grove, Camp Richardson’s newly renovated restaurant, for a classic beachfront cocktail: the sweet and tangy Rum Runner. Nearby, Anderson’s Bike Rental will set you up with wheels for a leisurely pedal along Lake Tahoe’s shore or to Fallen Leaf Lake for a dip in a secluded cove. You can also rent a powerboat or learn to waterski with Tahoe Sports. To maximize your beach time, stay at Camp Richardson Resort’s historic hotel or camp under the pines.

When you step away from the lake’s azure shores, you’ll find endless miles of hiking and biking trails, from easy paved paths to rocky, steep singletrack. Check out Eagle Falls (go at sunrise for Instagram-worthy pics) or push on to Eagle Lake, a granite-bound lake in the glacier-sculpted mountains. To fully explore Desolation Wilderness, apply for a backcountry camping permit, backpack to some of the 130+ alpine lakes, and sleep beneath the stars. For those who want a peek into the Desolation Wilderness without the workout, get a bird’s-eye view via helicopter tour or hot-air balloon ride.

One of the many joys of Sierra Nevada summers is the array of wildflowers. Raise your spirits with a high-elevation wildflower hike from Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake, a windswept rockbound lake in the shadow of Round Top Peak, where you’ll be treated to a patchwork of purple lupine, yellow mule ears, and pink mountain pride, among many other species. Families with little ones, meanwhile, won’t want to miss the short stroll to Angora Lakes, where your efforts will be rewarded with a shallow swimming area and the sweetest lemonade in the basin.

If you prefer your walks with a small white ball and a bag of clubs, you have options on Tahoe’s South Shore. Lake Tahoe Golf Course is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, preserving the natural habitat with mountain views from every green. Edgewood Golf Course hosts the annual Celebrity Golf Tournament, drawing stars from sports, comedy, music, and more to its lakeshore course. Stay a while, treating yourself to some fine dining, a spa day, or luxury accommodations at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort.

Wherever you’re staying, Tahoe evenings start with lakefront dining options. Enjoy a wood-fired pizza or savor slow-roasted prime rib at the Riva Grill (snap a selfie with the Mark Twain statue at the restaurant entrance). Watch the sunset from the Chart House or the top-floor Friday’s Station. Café Fiore and Evan’s American Gourmet Café are perfect picks for romantic evenings and special occasions.

And on nearly every summer night you’ll find live music — from a one-man show like Arty the Party Starter at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe to a big-name headliner playing at Harveys Outdoor Arena. Browse the galleries and shops at Heavenly Village, and then listen to live music under twinkling fairy lights. For music with a view, pack a picnic and head to Lakeview Commons for Live at Lakeview. Another midsummer night’s dream is catching an in-the-sand, under-the-stars play at the Shakespeare Festival in Sand Harbor.

Pro tip

Leave the lake and its surroundings as beautiful and pristine as you found them. Consult these Rules to Lake By to lessen your impact on the unique alpine environment.

Photo credits: Rachid Dahnoun / Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Kristin Rust / Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

Tahoe locals call the stretch between Labor Day and the first snowfall the “local’s summer” when most of the watercraft are gone, creating glassy conditions for SUPing and kayaking. Summer crowds have cleared out, and the quiet trails blaze yellow with changing aspens.

For the best leaf-peeping, head to the Van Sickle Trail or wander through the groves to Nevada Beach, which provides the perfect vantage point to watch the sunset. Drive up Luther Pass and descend into Hope Valley where surrounding hillsides are dotted with turning trees. Picnic along the creek or take a nap to the sound of the leaves fluttering in the wind.

Tahoe’s South Shore is replete with mountain biking options, from flowy trails for beginners to iconic double-black diamond tabletop jumps for those with more experience. Riders can access the Tahoe Rim Trail on even-numbered calendar days (odd days are for hiking only) and the extensive Corral Loop system with a variety of terrain. Part of the Sidewinder and Corral trails were burned in the Caldor Fire in 2021, so these rides offer a unique opportunity to watch the regeneration of a fire-scarred landscape. More advanced riders can put their technical expertise to the test on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Meanwhile, the newly built Lily Lake Trail’s wow-factor lies in both the techy granite riding and the jaw-dropping lake views.

Another autumn highlight is Taylor Creek’s Fall Fish Fest, which celebrates the spawning Kokanee salmon. These non-native relatives of the sockeye ended up in Lake Tahoe after a mishap at a World War II-era fishery. A tank overflowed, pouring the Kokanee into the lake, where they adapted and proliferated. They’re prized for their sweet, pink meat by spring and summer anglers on sportfishing charters, but in the fall they turn fire-red (and the males grow impressive hooked beaks) as they find their way back home. The best place to see them is Taylor Creek where — if you’re lucky — you might also glimpse a black bear fishing for a meal.

The fall season showcases an impressive lineup of special events. Don your lederhosen and try artisan brews from a commemorative stein at Oktoberfest, sample gourmet treats and wines at the Tahoe Food and Wine Festival, or run your heart out in the scenic Lake Tahoe Marathon.

Pro tip

Autumn weather can range from beach-day perfect to early-season blizzards, so prepare for all kinds of conditions. This is also the time of year when bears are most active, so make sure to dispose of all garbage properly, and don’t leave food in your car.

Photo credits: Rachid Dahnoun / Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Dan Thrift / Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

Winter in Tahoe is the most wonderful time of the year, whether you’re a hardcore skier or just looking to relax in front of a crackling fireplace with a hot drink. Take in panoramic lake views with bi-state, base-to-base skiing at the 4,800-acre Heavenly Mountain Resort; make family memories in terrain parks and open bowls at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort; and explore every nook, cranny, and secret powder stash at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.

After skiing Kirkwood, trek back to town for a fireside happy hour at the Black Bear Inn or a gourmet dinner at Maggie’s in the Desolation Hotel. If you aren’t a skier, you can still experience the thrills of sliding across snow and ice. Ride the soaring Heavenly Mountain Gondola to the 500-foot tubing hill or huff it to Echo Summit’s family-friendly Adventure Mountain for tubing, sledding, and snow play. You can explore even farther into Tahoe’s winter wonderland by zooming along ridgetops and through mountain meadows on a snowmobiling tour. Tahoe Sport Fishing also operates year-round, providing 360-degree views and the opportunity to catch a Mackinaw trout or Kokanee salmon.

Get some peace and quiet on a cross-country ski trail or by taking a snowshoe tour to the awe-inspiring Echo Lakes. Rent skates and take a spin on the ice with some wild skating at Red Lake or Caples Lake. Ice anglers, on the other hand, come to these alpine lakes for their rainbow, brown, and Mackinaw trout. After being out in the cold, warm up in the natural, healing waters at David Walley’s Hot Springs.

Whether you’re interested in browsing art galleries, high-stakes gaming, or dancing until dawn, winter nights are packed with ongoing and special events. To make the most of your time, check out Visit Lake Tahoe’s events page when planning your winter getaway.

Pro tip

The ski resorts typically open around Thanksgiving, and many of them now employ a parking reservation system. Check before you go, and be prepared for winter driving with an AWD/4WD vehicle with snow tires or carry chains.

Photo credits: Rachid Dahnoun / Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Aramark / Rachid Dahnoun.

When the low-elevation snow begins to melt, the scent of pine duff and the sounds of water fill the atmosphere. The winter crowds dissipate, and the sunshiny spring days soften the slopes, resulting in creamy groomers and slush bumps. Melting snow also creates powerful cascades and creeks, making spring the perfect time to snowshoe (or hike, depending on snow levels) to Cascade Falls and Glen Alpine Falls to witness the water’s impressive power and roar.

In late spring, paddle the meandering Truckee River through the meadows and past the tiny airport where private jets whisk away the rich and famous. Take a guided daytime kayak tour of Lake Tahoe in clear-bottom boats or an evening LED glow excursion with Clearly Tahoe.

After a full day on the water, get ready to explore the local craft beer scene. South Lake Tahoe’s Stateline Brewery offers family-friendly fare in a casual, laid-back space. Or sample a barrel-aged flight on the patio at Sidellis Brewery & Restaurant.

Spring is also a “kind of water heaven” for Lake Tahoe anglers, as it’s the best time of year to hook giant Mackinaw trout. Nearby rivers such as the west fork of the Carson make for idyllic places to cast for rainbow and cutthroat trout. Mini-anglers can fish at Tahoe Trout Farm where two ponds are stocked with Mount Lassen rainbow trout. The good folks there will wrap your fish to go, or you can bring your catch to MacDuff’s Pub, and they’ll cook your filet to perfection.

Pro tip

Be mindful of early-season cold water temperatures and fast-moving creeks and rivers. And by now you should be privy to this tip: With so much to do on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore, there’s truly no off-season. What time of year speaks to you?

Photo credits: Rachid Dahnoun / Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

This post is proudly produced in partnership with the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.